Is it Possible to Reconcile With Trump’s Base?

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The last question asked in the October 4th vice-presidential debate was on a subject all Americans should worry about: “It has been a divisive campaign… if your ticket wins, what specifically are you going to do to unify the country and reassure the people who voted against you?”  Democrat Tim Kaine replied that he was confident that Hillary Clinton could unify the US because she is a proven conciliator. Republican Mike Pence asserted Donald Trump would unify the country by making “America great again.”

If Clinton wins, is unity possible?

The latest Huffington Post Poll of Poll  (http://elections.huffingtonpost.com/pollster/2016-general-election-trump-vs-clinton)  shows Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump 48.4 percent to 41.6 percent.  Probably the hard-core Trump base is around 30 percent of voters.

Two years ago, Pew Research Center (http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/26/the-political-typology-beyond-red-vs-blue/ ) released a “Typology of American politics.”  The Pew typology distinguished between three classes of voters: the general public, registered voters, and the “politically engaged.” In the category “politically engaged” there were three categories of Republicans: “Steadfast Conservatives: socially conservative populists” at 19 percent; “Business Conservatives: Pro-Wall street, pro-immigrant” at 17 percent; and “Young Outsiders: conservative views on government, not on social issues” at 11 percent.  The hard-core Trump base is probably composed of “Steadfast Conservatives” and “Young Outsiders” for 30 percent — roughly the size of the Tea Party movement.

In March, Bill Moyers (http://billmoyers.com/story/so-who-are-donald-trumps-voters/ ) interviewed Dr. Robert Jones, whose organization conducted the “American Values Survey.” Dr. Jones said that Trump voters: “… are best understood not as values voters, not even as Tea Party voters, but as nostalgia voters, these voters that are looking back to — they’re culturally and economically disaffected voters that are anxious to hold on to a white conservative Christian culture that’s passing from the scene.” [Emphasis added] The Trump voters are united by their skepticism about government: both the perceived failings of the Obama Administration (and, by association, Hillary Clinton) and their negative feelings about immigration.

Berkeley Professor Lawrence Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Right-Wing Studies (http://news.berkeley.edu/2016/09/23/rebranding-the-right-republicans-and-the-republic-post-election/) has amplified this description.  Rosenthal says Trump supporters are a new form of right-wing populism — a blend of the Tea Party plus the “alt-right” (“a rebranding of classic white nationalism.”)  They are united by their disdain for immigrants and “elites,” including Wall Street, Washington, and Hollywood.  They feel “their” country slipping away and believe their children will have a tougher life than they do.  (Rosenthal observed that, before Trump, the model for these voters was Sarah Palin, who during her 2008 campaign for Vice President, expressed the same anger and disdain for political correctness.)

In an August 15th study for the Gallup organization, Jonathan Rockwell offered a more nuanced view of Trump voters: ( http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2822059): “His supporters are less educated and more likely to work in blue collar occupations, but they earn relatively high household incomes… no other presidential candidate from either party received greater support from places with high white mortality, high segregation, and low mobility.”  In other words, the Trump voters live in segregated failing communities.  They are angry and Trump has channeled this anger.

The New Yorker’s George Saunders observed the Trump campaign (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/11/george-saunders-goes-to-trump-rallies).   Saunders wrote: “From the beginning, America has been of two minds about the Other. One mind says, be suspicious of it, dominate it, deport it, exploit it, enslave it, kill it as needed. The other mind denies that there can be any such thing as the Other, in the face of the claim that all are created equal… The first mind has always held violence nearby, to use as needed.”  Trump voters are those who hold the first mind; who are extremely fearful of “the Other.”

Trump has ruthlessly exploited this base and amplified their fear.   New Yorker contributor Saunders characterized Trump as “a fan of winning by any means necessary, exploiting our recent dullness and our aversion to calling stupidity, stupidity.”

Hillary Clinton will likely become the 45th president.  Her biggest challenge will be unifying the country, particularly the hardcore Trump voters.  It will be a daunting task.

Writing in the Huffington Post, (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-kuttner/trumpism-could-be-more-da_b_11756020.html), liberal commentator Robert Kuttner lamented that Trump has unloosed “the forces of real hate… Trump will have goons as poll watchers. He will find ways to insist that the election was stolen. He will continue to make more mischief, impeaching the legitimacy of our institutions.”

All voters should hope that Hillary Clinton will be as good at reconciliation as her running-mate, Tim Kaine, says she is.  After the election, Hillary will reach out to Trump voters but they won’t take her seriously.  To bridge the social chasm between her advocates and the Trump folks, Hillary will have to provide real economic change (good jobs and a lessening of inequality).  Hillary will have to give Trump voters a reason to be hopeful, convince them that America really is great.